Preparing Tapestry: our Fourth Year

We are headed into our fourth year of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, which means we will have completed the cycle at the end of this year. (It also means this is my last year of all grammar level.) Last year, I felt like we really made Tapestry our own and found our rhythm, our stride. It felt good, like a fitted glove. Of course, when you end a year like that, it makes planning the next year exciting. I love the aspect of homeschooling where I trouble-shoot and research and find our answers, but the Lord knew I would be doing that in several other areas of our life; so homeschooling was off the hook. No massive revamping this year. With that said, preparing Tapestry for this year went really smoothly.

In summary, I love manilla folders. I keep 36 folders for our weekly “must-do” assignments like language and math and Latin. Then I keep a second set of folders for Tapestry that are labeled by Term (we do three 12 week terms) and by topic (I don’t cover everything; instead, I select the events and topics that will best suit my learners). All of our reading lists, media lists, and project papers are printed off and filed in these topic folders.

So here’s what it looks like. At the beginning of a week, I pull out two folders: the week we are in and the topic we are studying. Within the weekly folder, I pull out assignment pages and file into the kids’ daily pockets inside their binders (we use case-it binders with the accordion file inside). Within the topic folder, I look at my list all of the books and projects assigned for that topic and the number of weeks that I’ve guessed it will take us to complete (i.e. Titanic, 2 weeks). I then allocate those assignments that will fit with our week’s schedule. Last year, this method cut my weekly prep to about 30 to 45 minutes total! Both kids filed and ready to go in around a half hour. It was beautiful.

Reading Lists

Tapestry’s reading lists are copyrighted, so I can’t share the specific book titles that we are using. However, I will list a couple of other resources I use to compare and substitute book titles. SimplyCharlotteMason.com has a book finder feature that I love. Just type in the event or person you are studying, the reading level of your students, and a great list of engaging living books is listed for you. My second resource is my local library online catalogue search feature. Again, I type in the event or person, narrow it to children’s resources, and voila! I love my local library. It has an enormous selection.

I also use SimplyCharlotteMason’s Story of America and Story of the Nations ebooks as my core. These are not Tapestry titles, but the table of contents make it very easy to assign chapters that fit what we are covering. And the books are very engaging. We love them.

I select my favorites. Depending on how long we intend to study a topic, for each week I will select one to two read-aloud titles, one to two independent reading titles per child (depending on the length of the book), and the rest will be assigned merely as reference, as in “let’s look at more pictures.”

Media List

I love audios. Awhile back I scored Diana Waring’s history audio from Answers in Genesis‘ history program. We love listening to these on the way back and forth to karate and co-op. So, on the days we don’t get to our reading, we are still getting to our history. And this is another very engaging resource.

Netflix is also a resource where I search for related films to what we are studying. We don’t always get to this, but it is great for those off-days or sick days to already have this list compiled.

Projects

Homeschool in the Woods is not a Tapestry resource either, but we LOVE these projects. I use the Time Traveler activities. We make notebooking pages using both the notebooking and lapbooking project ideas. Especially since my kids are finally old enough to do their own cutting and pasting, these have been really fun activities to assign. They work on these while I read-aloud. It keeps their fingers busy but doesn’t distract them from the reading.

I generally choose the projects that fit what we are studying, our time-frame, and my kids’ interests. I spend one long afternoon printing all of my chosen activities and filing into my topic folders. This saves me so much time during the school year.

I also have the Draw Through History titles. My son loves to draw; my daughter loves to trace. And it gives them some ideas for drawing and enhancing their notebook with images of what we are studying.

Our Rhythm

I mentioned that I note about how many weeks I think a topic will take us. Last year, this was very fluid. We moved on when our books were read and our projects were done. And I found that in the end, things balanced out. Some topics took longer than I estimated, and some topics didn’t take as long. If we read everything in a week, we moved on. If it took us five weeks, because of interest or illness, we took our time and enjoyed it all. Sometimes, it was just a dud, and rather than struggle through 3 more weeks of something we were not enjoying, we covered the basics and moved on.

I’m also sensitive to my kids’ reading interests. There were some books that my son just hated, and while I realize that not all learning can be interest-driven, I think at the younger levels, reading should be. Occasionally, I’d make a call that he just needed to get through a book. But if I made that call, I ensured that I had a very tantalizing book as a reward when he finished. There were books we didn’t read cover-to-cover. (Pause for you to gasp in horror.) We survived, and were no worse for that decision.

In spite of all that flexibility, I was amazed by how much my kids retained and learned. A little went a really long way.

What about discipline and teaching kids to push through the difficult stuff? I split my subjects into two categories: our discipline subjects like math, grammar, spelling; and our inspiration subjects like history, science, and reading. This helped me define my objectives. My discipline subjects were challenging but in short spurts (no more than 15-20 min. per lesson/subject). My inspiration subjects were kept inspiring and interesting and often took closer to an hour or hour and a half (hands-on projects take awhile). But again, I watched my kiddos. If they were engaged, we took our time. If their eyes were glossing over, it was time for lunch.

Want to know more specifics? I’ve listed our specific curriculum choices here. Feel free to browse those links. Not sure what your homeschool style is? Be encouraged with my post about losing the labels.

I’m looking forward to another really great homeschool adventure, and I hope you tag along on our journey.

Next Year Plans 2015-2016

Homeschool Curriculum Planning | homeschool plans

I must confess, planning for this next school year’s homeschool curriculum was much less difficult than it has been in the past. We had so much success this year that I had little to research and change. And while it was very nice to have those decisions pretty well made, I kind of missed the search-and-find part of the process. I’m thrilled that we’ve found the pieces that fit just right for us. It’s been a great fit this year, a perfect balance. So, here is our master list for next year’s plans, our homeschool curriculum in 2015-2016 (4th grade, 2nd grade, and preschool).

Plans for Grade 4:

Christian Light Publications Grade 4 Math

Alpha Omega Grade 4 Language Arts

Easy Grammar/Daily Grams 4

Spelling Power, 1st edition

Visual Latin 1 (second half)

Legends and Leagues geography (North, South, East—one for each school term)

My State Notebook, A Beka

Tapestry of Grace year 4, Upper Grammar (with Draw through History and Time Travelers Pak activities)

Plans for Grade 2:

Christian Light Publication Grade 2 Math

Logic of English Foundations D

Legends and Leagues (original book and workbook)

Tapestry of Grace Year 4, Lower Grammar (with Draw through History and Time Traveler Pak activities)

We’ll also be studying Norman Rockwell and Kandinsky for art, as well as jazz and Louis Armstrong for music.

Plans for “Preschool”  (3 year old)

Nothing heavy here, trust me. But I have to plan something to keep Little Man out of trouble. And he loves “plojects.” Honestly, I’m aiming for exploration. And while I don’t have anything finalized, I expect to use a lot of Pinterest ideas, some resources from Letter of the Week (COAH), and some inspiration from The Homegrown Preschooler. I also want to implement a lot of Montessori activities with him.

Tot School | homeschool plans

Littlest is such a sponge. He does a lot of counting, can recognize a few different letters, and knows his colors pretty well with absolutely no formal instruction from me. He’s too little to have a learning style just yet, but he clearly loves to explore rather than pursue anything structured. I’m really okay with that for now. I love setting out the supplies and letting him explore them on his own.

We do have a “summer school” schedule that I’ll post more details about soon. And I can’t wait to get into that learning mode. In the meantime, I’ll have to satisfy my curriculum-hunting instincts by delving into some preschool pinterest boards.

 

Facing Our ADHD Challenges

ADHD challenges in homeschool, parenting, and family life

All of life is a journey, with a thousand twists and turns and detours and unscheduled maintenance stops. And while some families may have a journey that looks like a road trip across Texas or Ohio (think miles of nothingness), ours feels more like a roller coaster. And just when I feel like it’s time to unbuckle and get off, it lurches forward again.

In our latest hair-raising episodes, we’ve encountered the full impact of an ADHD diagnosis. Without names, just think multiple family members, and you’ll start to get an idea of how life-altering this has been. It’s been a nightmare and a relief at the same time. A nightmare to realize the challenges that lie ahead, and a relief to understand that there are solutions to our difficulties.

I know this is a highly charged and controversial diagnosis, and I’m not about to debate any of that here. For a fantastic overview of what it is and how it can affect a family, visit BenandMe.com’s blog series on ADHD. It’s amazing, and has been a tremendous (not to mention, timely) encouragement.

Needless to say, this has meant some huge changes in our family-life, parenting style, and homeschool. And it’s meant that I’ve lightened up on some of my extremely idealistic expectations to provide a little relief for us all. Here’s a sneak-peak at the ADHD challenges we’ve faced off so far.

The ADHD Challenges of Homeschool & Routine

Homeschooling ADHD | hands-on ideas for out-of-the-box learnersIf you know anything about ADHD, then you’ll understand how crucial structure and routine are. But I needed a routine that was, on one hand, structured but, on the other hand, capable of flexing with our high demands. The solution…drum roll…

Mornings are reserved for exploration and activity; discipline subjects (think phonics, spelling, math) come after lunch.

So after our chores, our mornings include things like a nature walk, a read-aloud and art project, music lessons, or Latin videos (Song School Latin). I don’t “schedule” these activities (other than our Tapestry of Grace history lessons). Instead, I suggest the next thing on the list during the next opportunity we have. If chores take too long, we miss the extras. But if the kids have been diligent and we have time, I look at what’s next to offer up. If it’s a pretty day, I suggest a nature walk. If I’m having trouble with my Littlest, then I suggest a Kinderbach lesson or the Latin video.

After lunch, we have a rigid system that pretty much never changes. It’s time for discipline. Oldest does his Reflex Math, copywork, mapwork, and some reading while Middlest does math and reading with me. (Littlest is fed and happy and pretty content to explore on his own during this time of day.) Then, we switch it up. Middlest does Reflex and plays with Littlest while Oldest does language and math with me.

It takes us roughly two hours. And I’m done by 3. Which means all the kids go to quiet time and leave me in as close to absolute silence as we can possibly acquire. I’ve insisted: mommy needs quiet time or mommy becomes a momster. And after proving that out a few times, they’ve pretty much gotten the idea.

The ADHD Challenges of Evenings & Dinner Prep

Evenings are our “witching hour” in every sense that the parent books warn about. My children never outgrew this. It’s absolute chaos. Plus, it’s time to make dinner. Which means that inevitably, my husband walks into a storm.

Here’s where I’ve relaxed my ideal. I have allowed a daily cartoon time while I make supper (horror of horrors!) They watch cartoons until I have supper prepared, and my husband can sneak into the house and transition himself to “family time.” My rules are as follows: if you come out of quiet time, you will lose your cartoon time. If you whine or pout when I say time is up, you will lose your next day’s cartoon time. So far, there have been NO infractions. Amazing!

 

The ADHD Challenges of Chores

Chores have been a nightmare. And I’m not Cinderella’s step-mother: most of my children’s “chores” are brushing their teeth, making their bed, cleaning their room type of tasks. But between HIGH-distractibility and extreme emotional melt-downs, chores have been a Twilight Zone.

Until I went searching for a chore app with a reward system. What I needed was a chore system that ran itself and offered rewards for tasks done. If it depended on my husband or myself to resupply the rewards or come up with the cash or whatever, I knew it would fail. I knew our limits.

ChoreMonster has been a dream come true. First, it’s free! (Hallelujah!) Second, the chores, point system, and rewards are all customizable. I enter the chores and equivalent points earned for each child. I enter the rewards and points for purchase. I customize whether or not the chore needs to be approved by me (getting dressed does not but cleaning a room does). And the app literally runs itself.

My kids have their own login to check off the chores they finish. For each chore finished, they get a spin on the monster wheel that will either win them a new cleaning monster to add to their collection or something monster-ish like dirty underwear, a banana peel, an empty soda can, or a jar of farts. They love it!

For rewards, they can earn video game time, a movie night, a bubble bath with no time limit, a candy bar on my next trip to the store, a new lego set, and other items of varying value.

I’ve included good character as “chores,” if they show responsibility, a servant-spirit, a great effort during a difficult situation, or excellence in school (attitude and focus), they earn points as well.

It’s been a huge success! And a huge relief.

Logic of English Foundations | hands-on phonics for dyslexia, ADHDWe still have a lot of changes to make and a lot more challenges to face. But just to catch my breath from the chaos has been such a blessing. And knowing what it is I’m up against has been the greatest blessing of all.

**UPDATE: Find out more about how we are facing our ADHD challenges in these posts:

Everyday Challenges of ADHD

Taking on ADHD Diet and food eliminations

Homeschooling a child with ADHD

Using Literature-rich curriculum with dyslexic and ADHD kids

Homeschooling Simplicity: Simplifying Tapestry

simplifying Tapestry of Grace | classically homeschooling ADHD

I’m trying to achieve simplicity for the rest of this year and the upcoming year, to give my kids a quality education while allowing us to live life, the life God’s given us. I’ve been tackling several different areas of our homeschool where I felt the pressure getting a little out of hand, one of those has been our integrated history studies through Tapestry of Grace. Because Tapestry includes plans for all twelve grades and ideas for all the learning styles, it can easily become too much if you try to do it all. It’s meant to be a buffet, where you pick and choose the ideas and projects that fit your family best. Even so, I desperately needed to make a change: simplifying Tapestry has breathed new life into our homeschool day.

Simplifying Tapestry

I love that Tapestry will fit into the Charlotte Mason method well while still maintaining the tenants of classical education that I value. But I am changing the way we do a few things. I’m simplifying Tapestry of Grace, or at least how we use it, to fit our family and our needs right now. One of those chief needs is for short lessons.

Organizing by topic. I’ve begun to prep the unit by topic rather than by week. That means, I request the books from the library for the whole unit, arrange the order we’ll read those books, print off the TOG pages we’ll need to go along with those books and topics, and then close the curriculum and don’t look at it again until the next unit.

This allows us the freedom to maintain short lessons (the Charlotte Mason way) and enjoy the journey. I no longer worry that “I HAVE to finish a book in a single week because we have three more books to start next week.” Instead, when we finish one set of books, we move to the next in my sequence. Sometimes it takes more time, and sometimes it takes less.

Choosing an emphasis. I’ve also started choosing our emphasis rather than emphasizing every event in history, as I’ve done in the past. We don’t HAVE to cover the Pilgrims, Catherine the Great, the wars in Europe, and the British conqest of India all in one week. I choose our emphasis and allow myself the freedom to pick another emphasis on the next rotation of history. {allow me to take a huge sigh of relief here}

Simplifying mapwork. Last but not least, I’m simplifying mapwork. Rather than a new map each week, I’m choosing one or two maps per unit, depending on what we are studying. Again, I’m allowing us the time to make a relationship and form connections with the places we are studying. Not to mention that it makes my life a whole lot easier.

Let me give you an example here. We’ve spent 3-4 weeks on the map of the 13 original colonies. The first week, I gave Oldest the teacher map and sheets of tracing paper. Each day, he traced the map on the paper. Week 2, he drew his own map while looking at the original. Week 3 and 4, he drew it without looking. The result? That boy knows his colonies! He has a relationship with them; he’s memorized them just from this activity; he perks up in each of our stories when a particular colony is mentioned; he’s never taken more than 5-10 minutes a day on mapwork. Because we stretched this out, he’s had a greater depth of understand and stayed within our “short lesson” rule.

The beauty of Tapestry of Grace, one of the reasons I loved it to begin with, is that it allows for customizing to fit your family. I’m so thankful I’m finally allowing myself to maximize that benefit by simplifying Tapestry and how we use it. It’s been a breath of fresh grace in our homeschool.

Want an update on our Tapestry journey? Read about the benefits of using a literature-rich curriculum with ADHD/Dyslexia.

Implementing Charlotte Mason, baby steps

Classically inclined, Charlotte Mason inspired homeschooling

We’re applying Charlotte Mason in our homeschool these days, implementing some of the methods in baby steps. And since I’ve waxed super philosophical lately, I thought I’d take a break for some practical thoughts today.

The nice thing about CM is that it is a method not a curriculum, so I’m really not making huge curriculum changes mid-year. I’m using all the same materials; I’m just using them differently.

Short Lessons

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but this has been #1 on my list of changes. In order to require strict attention to lessons, short lessons are recommended, before your child’s attention is lost. What does this look like?

We still do A Beka Math. We still do Logic of English (Foundations B for Middlest, Essentials for Oldest). We still do Tapestry of Grace. However, I’m making intentional decisions to keep each individual lesson no longer than 15-20 minutes. For some of our Tapestry reading, that means that we may come back in an hour to read some more, but my kids get the brain breaks they need. For some Essentials lessons, that means it may take us more than a week to get through a single lesson. That’s okay. He’ll actually learn more by doing less.

Copy Work

We’ve started doing copy work lessons 3-4 times a week. Copy work reinforces good handwriting, spelling, and mechanics as the kids copy passages from quality books. What does this look like?

Implementing Charlotte Mason

Well, for Middlest I cheat and actually have her writing the sentence that is a part of her Foundations lesson. It’s a start, and she is only kindergarten after all. For Oldest, I downloaded the free copy work lessons from the AmblesideOnline yahoo group. Even though he’s technically 2nd grade, we are just starting copy work, so I have him copying from Book 1. The passages he’s copying are from a favorite book of his that we read earlier in the year; he loves it. And on the days we are not doing copy work, I let him illustrate his copy work page. It’s a win for both of us.

This takes us 5-10 minutes. That’s all! I know some kids may take longer to write, but I was blown away by how little time it really took us to implement some of these things.

Living Books

I’m much pickier about our books, even our “Tapestry” book selections. I’ve seen the difference between fact-filled books (even the ones with all the cool pictures—think Usborne and DK Eyewitness) and really, truly living books—books that have a storyline and an enthusiastic author, books that make the facts come alive with people and narrative and ideas. What does this look like?

I double-check my book selections through the SimplyCharlotteMason.com bookfinder. If it’s not on that site, I find an Amazon preview and read a few pages. I’m getting better at detecting the good stuff. And IF I get a book from the library that is not living, it’s only for the pictures. The kids can look through those pictures while I read the living books. The difference is that my son tries to steal these books to read on his own; he devours them. The other kinds of books sit on my shelves, unless someone’s in the mood for pictures.

Narration

I’ll probably delve into this a little further in future posts; it’s a huge part of both classical and CM, though the technique is a little different in each method. For the Susan Wise-Bauer method, you ask specific questions to elicit a specific answer. You’ve chosen the key ideas you want your child to retain. With the CM method, the child retells the story back to you. He does the mental work of remembering, of selecting the points that resonated with him, of putting that information in order. It is the process of composition, but it occurs in the child’s head. What has this looked like?

I’ll be frank—Oldest has resisted this a little. The open-endedness scares him because he’s used to giving me what I want. That, and he’s not much for change. But I’m sold on this aspect of the CM methods; I totally see the value, especially as preparation for composition later on. So I’ve mentioned the value of what he’s doing to him, and then reassured him. The reassurance is gradually drawing him out. And I’ve been creative with how we do it. Sometimes, he retells. Other times, I’ve let them draw pictures or act out the stories. And though I have not required anything from Middlest (because she’s only 5), she has whole-heartedly jumped on board with it.

That’s it. That’s all we’ve changed right now to make CM a part of our homeschool. It’s nothing scary, nothing drastic or expensive or traumatic. But it has been revolutionary. I can sense it changing not just how we do things, but who we are. And I love it! I feel like a caged bird set free.

Freedom with Charlotte Mason

Our 2014 Morning Routine

How We Do series

I’ve been putting off sharing this post, but I finally feel like we’ve settled into our new schedule enough to share it with you our morning routine. As you may recall, I shook up our whole schedule after Christmas in an attempt to find a fit for everyone, including Littlest.

In addition to accommodating our toddler, our life has some late nights for the kids;  many nights have the kids getting to bed at 9 or later. Which makes the next morning rough on everyone if I enforce a strict “traditional” schedule.

So, after a long, drawn out battle with myself, I’m finally allowing our natural rhythms as a family to dictate our schedule.

I have always tried to be up hours before the kids. But my husband and I are often up late as well (11 p.m. or even midnight). Rather than fight this, I’ve started sleeping in, too. Instead of 5 or 6 a.m., I now get up around 7:30 or 8, about the same time as the kids. But all of us begin the day with some quiet Bible time. If they finish before me, I give them morning hugs and gently remind them that Mommy needs time to finish her time with God and send them back to their rooms to dress and make their beds.

Enjoying our "Song Theatre," as Middlest termed it.
Enjoying our “Song Theatre,” as Middlest termed it.

We ease into our morning routine with breakfast at around 8 or 8:30, followed by “daily hygiene” (getting dressed, brushing teeth, and the rest) and lots of time with Littlest. I’ll play our favorite Family Favorite Tunes for some “jumpin’ and a dancin'” and banging on our rhythm instruments. Littlest loves this (as do the others). And it has helped get wiggles out for everyone. Or some days, Littlest prefers to read some books. Either way, this is my time to spend with him. The others may join in with Littlest as they finish their chores.

I finally purchased a baby gate, which has made a tremendous difference in our day. I could never have guessed how much it helps to limit his chaos to just one floor of our house rather than chasing him out of no-nos on both levels. (Highly recommend a baby-gate!)

We begin our school day about 9:00 or so with copy work and memory chants, and I’m really holding myself accountable to short lessons. Copy work and memory chants both take us 20 min. total.  Littlest usually joins us for this, dancing to our songs and waving his arms around to the motions of our timeline.

Homeschool ScheduleAfter 20 min., I spend time with Middlest on her math and reading; Oldest begins his independent work (a math worksheet, mapwork, and sometimes other activities). Littlest is often playing on his own in the living room, sitting in his high chair with his own coloring page or craft, or having a snack. He also enjoys playing Connect Four in my lap while I teach Middlest. Again, we spend 20 min. here and that’s it. Even if we aren’t quite done yet, Middlest will pick back up on her lessons the following day and Oldest can finish his independent work a little later on.

The next 20 minute segment varies each day. Some days it’s a read-aloud; other days it may be our Latin DVD (we’re doing Song School Latin 1) or Kinderbach. Occasionally, if I need the break to finish something, I’ll let everyone watch Oldest play his Reflex math while I finish a chore.

Another 20 minute segment finds us listening to our Story of the World audio (our core history source for Tapestry of Grace this year) and coloring the pictures, or reading a read-aloud if we haven’t gotten to that yet. We read aloud together for at least one subject every day, and most days Oldest will read some, too.

We don't do everything here. I cover 1 or 2 story problems, the Thinking Cap, and 5 or 6 Oral Combinations.
This is my A Beka Math teacher guide. We don’t do everything here. I cover 1 or 2 story problems, the Thinking Cap, and 5 or 6 Oral Combinations.

Oldest then works with me for 30 minutes. Notice this time, I’m spending 30 min.: that’s 15 min. of math and 15 min. of Language Arts. This segment of time has been a real eye-opener. I can’t believe how much we get accomplished in this time frame. In 15 minutes, I check his math page, review his new concept, give some critical thinking problems and oral problems for him to solve, and complete a speed drill. And yes, this is A Beka math. (Notice also, no flashcards! Reflex math replaces all of that for me.) Then, we move on to Essentials. I choose a few exercises from each lesson; we work for 15 minutes and then pick up with more from that lesson on the following day. Yes, it may take us longer to get through the LOE book, but otherwise we’d burn ourselves out. (There’s so much in one lesson! Spelling, grammar, dictation, composition, vocabulary/roots/prefixes/suffixes. It just has to be done incrementally.)

The rest of the morning routine is spent finishing up the little details we might not have completed yet, or enjoying the fun stuff—another read-aloud, some art, some nature study, or just enjoying a beautiful day outside.

Tapestry of Grace
Tapestry of Grace

We’re done by lunch, or on mornings when we all slept a little more than usual, we’ll finish shortly after lunch. It’s been such a freeing morning routine, and one that allows us to live the life God’s given us.

How do your mornings roll?